Cooking class teaches healthier habits

Apr 07, 2012
The finished dish.

Belfast — In keeping with its mission to help its communities be the healthiest in America, two educators from Waldo County General Hospital’s Journey to Health led an adult education class on eating healthier during the winter session of adult education at Belfast Area High School.

There were many different reasons why the students choose that class, including:

• “My husband has diabetes so I wanted to learn to cook healthier.”
• “I have type 2 diabetes so I need to eat healthier.”
• “For the fun of it.”
• “We eat healthy but we wanted to learn to eat even healthier.”
• “I wanted to see different ways to make things healthy.”
• “I came to support my friend.”
• “I was looking to see how to cook some of my recipes healthier.”

Whatever the reason for signing up, they all agreed the course was even better than they expected. Not only did they learn how to cook healthier, but they had a ton of fun.

Each class demonstrated a breakfast and dinner meal. An example breakfast menu is a parfait, made with low-fat or fat-free Greek-style yogurt, with a choice of frozen berries, cereal, chia seed, flax meal, walnuts and almonds. One dinner menu called for turkey bean burgers with roasted veggies served over mixed baby greens.

The first dish to prepare is the roasted veggies. Health Educator Barbara Crowley cuts up potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, onion and garlic. Then, Registered Dietitian Jen Nelson mixes the veggies together, with the exception of the beets which she keeps in a separate bowl. She sprinkles some olive oil on top of each bowl, along with some onion and garlic powder. Nelson then puts on some disposable gloves and tosses the veggies and spices in each bowl with her hands.

Why keep the beets separate? Because the colors of the fresh vegetables are so bright and the juice from the beets would dull them and give them all a pinkish look. And not only does Nelson want the food people eat to taste good, she wants it to look inviting, too.

And roasted veggies can be lots of fun to make, says Nelson, adding that it’s fun to try adding different spices and fresh herbs.

All the veggies then go on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and are roasted in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

With the veggies in the oven, the class turns to making the turkey bean burgers. After draining and rinsing a can of pinto beans (which decreases the sodium level by about 40 percent for all canned vegetables), Nelson dons a new pair of disposable gloves. She pours the beans into a bowl and starts mashing them with her fingers, telling her students this is a good place for children to take part in the meal preparation or to take out your frustrations from the day.

Once the beans are mashed, Nelson adds a pound of ground turkey to the beans. But instead of really mixing the beans and turkey, Jen gently works them in together and forms into patties. She says ground meat can get tough if you handle it too much. While the frying pan is heating to a medium high temperature, Nelson puts in a small amount of butter and some reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce.

Then, while Crowley is cooking the turkey bean burgers, which are starting to smell delicious, Nelson mixes mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard and puts the mixture of condiments in a small plastic bag. She then puts some herb and spring mix salad on each plate (they learned to make this during an earlier class) then checks on the roasted veggies, which are also smelling delicious. She takes the veggies out of the oven and puts some on each plate.

By then, the turkey bean burgers are cooked and one of each goes on top of the salad and veggies. Next, Nelson cuts off the tiny point on the plastic bag holding the condiments and squeezes it out onto the turkey bean burger.

Then comes the real test — the students try the food. There is no question, they love it. And they have also enjoyed many of the recipes from the previous classes and have tried some at home on their own.

“I made two batches of pancakes and one of muffins,” says Gene Pfeiffer of Troy. “I made the pancakes with whole wheat flour and put pomegranates and peaches on top one time and cranberries and peaches the second time.”

“They were pretty good, too,” adds his son Scott, also of Troy.

Steven Parsons of Troy, who is taking the class with his wife Cathy, says he really liked the peanut butter breakfast bars with Grape Nuts cereal.

While David Johnson of Searsport thought the lentil soup was fantastic, he also likes the informational handouts from Nelson. One of the handouts was “Facts on Fluids,” which has such interesting facts as: If you are dehydrated, you are more likely to have trouble concentrating, be more irritable and have more headaches. And if you feel thirsty, then you are already one percent dehydrated.

JoDelle Rolerson of Belfast says she’s enjoyed seeing different ways to make things healthier. She has always cooked healthy but the class has given her some fresh ideas.

All the students agreed, “We love the excellent instructors and their animated ways.” They particularly liked the class where Jen brought in her 3-year-old daughter Nora to help with the cooking. At one point, they say, Nora was mixing a recipe and she said, “One more ingredient will make that perfect.”

And their only suggestion for a way to make the class even better? Maybe you could get families involved. “It would be great for parents and their children,” they say.

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